For some actors winning an Academy Award is the highpoint of their professional life, a laudatory summation of a career that in some cases extends back many decades. It must be a heady, joyous moment, if only because that explains why some notable victors – Oscar statuette barely installed on the mantelpiece – make such poor decisions in the weeks and months afterwards about their next part. Whether the lure is Hollywood money, or a starring role in a high profile blockbuster, terrible roles have a habit of following great ones once the Academy Awards are involved. In the name of fairness the 10 examples listed below are roles the actors involved agreed to and shot after winning an Academy Award, not something that was in the can before they worked the room at every awards season function in Los Angeles.
Monster’s Ball > Catwoman
There’s a reason they now call the phenomenon described in this article as ‘The Halle Berry Effect’: Monster’s Ball was not a good film, but Berry excelled as the struggling working class mother with a husband on death row awaiting execution, an ailing son, and several other contrived hindrances; she transformed melodrama into something palpably painful. But then came Catwoman, directed by French visual effects supervisor Pitof, which turned out to be a ludicrously camp comic book spin-off that belonged to the Joel Schumacher era of gaudy superheroes. To her credit, Berry accepted her Golden Raspberry Award for Best Actress in person, thanking Warner Brothers for casting her in, “a piece of shit, god-awful movie”.
Girl, Interrupted > Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Winona Ryder was a talented actor, but she basically evaporates off the screen whenever Angelina Jolie appears in James Mangold’s Girl, Interrupted. The then 24-year-old Jolie was magnetically unstable as a psychiatric facility patient in a performance that won her a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. Canny about her career, Jolie probably knew what she was getting herself into with this video game adaptation, playing a rare female action hero in exchange for wearing skin tight costumes and hefting around monumentally large fake breasts. When you’re portraying pixels instead of an actual person, there’s no room for subtlety.
Good Will Hunting > Patch Adams
Robin Williams had been a comic star and occasional dramatic lead for many years, but playing the rueful widowed shrink who gets through to Matt Damon’s damaged genius in Good Will Hunting suggested a new maturity. Then Williams made Patch Adams. Envisaged as a heartwarming comic statement on the painful demands of humanity – from no less than the director of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective – it’s a cloying, shockingly sentimental movie about an ageing medical student who thinks you should treat the soul along with the body. If humour is Adams’ prescription, his patients are all terminally ill.
The Queen > National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Perhaps the U.S. dollar and pound sterling exchange rate was particularly good at the time? Whatever the reason, Helen Mirren essentially phoned in her workmanlike performance in a mundane sequel to an already average hit, playing the mother to Nicolas Cage’s bizarrely moody hunter of treasure. (Yes, Helen Mirren and Jon Voight’s characters had a son that looks like Nicolas Cage.) This is the classic example of prestige casting, with the holder of an Order of the British Empire who’d just portrayed the world’s most famous monarch being wedged into an American popcorn movie so that everyone at the press junket could answer the softly pitched question of, “What was it like to work with Helen Mirren?”
Leaving Las Vegas > Con Air
Nicolas Cage was already assisting Michael Bay in destroying swathes of San Francisco as a means of asserting his masculinity in The Rock when he won a Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of a suicidal alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas. Afterwards, facing a clear choice, he opted for action flicks, taking on an upright former U.S. soldier convicted of murder whose flight home to his adorable family is hijacked by homicidal maniacs in Con Air. A knowingly nutso Scott Rosenberg screenplay gets the full slow-motion heroics and billowing explosion treatment from director Simon West (who would go on to helm Lara Croft: Tomb Raider). Cage’s florid southern accent doesn’t help.
Monster > Aeon Flux
It probably sounded good. Aeon Flux had been an underground animated series on MTV in the 1990s, when the network still had some rough edges, where a deadpan assassin in a dystopic future goes through bizarre missions, while director Karyn Kusama had made the well-received indie female boxing flick Girlfight. Fresh from her Best Actress Oscar for Monster, Charlize Theron departed for Berlin’s Babelsberg Studio, where a convoluted plot, nebulous characterisation and weird sci-fi touches that made no sense combined for a ferociously dull film. Aeon may or may not have saved mankind, but the audience had no chance.
The King’s Speech > Gambit
His nervous King of England was essentially Colin Firth’s introduction to the American mainstream, and in the Academy Awards-dominating wake of The King’s Speech he signed up for this long-mooted remake of Ronald Neame’s enjoyable 1966 heist comedy. The selling point was a script written by Joel and Ethan Coen on well-paid assignment, but as demonstrated by The Ladykillers, they need to leave vintage British comedies well alone. Firth and Cameron Diaz replaced Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine as art scammers for director Michael Hoffman, but the result (barely released here) is frenetic and close to vapid. Farce is not Colin Firth’s thing.
In the Heat of the Night > The Illustrated Man
One from the archives: Rod Steiger had crafted some deeply impressive performances during a lively if often low profile career, most notably in On the Waterfront and The Pawnbroker, but it was the belligerently racist southern sheriff who finds himself working with Sidney Poitier’s northern police detective that won him Best Actor for 1967’s In the Heat of the Night. He used the prestige and commercial success to launch The Illustrated Man, an anthology science-fiction piece based on three Ray Bradbury short stories. Directed by his friend, Jack Smight, it features a fearsomely broad Steiger as a man who recounts the futuristic stories behind three of his many tattoos. There’s over-acting, there’s scenery chewing, and then there’s whatever Steiger is doing here.
The Constant Gardener > Fred Claus
Talk about diminished expectations: Rachel Weisz went from playing a murdered activist, who comes alive in vivid and unsettling ways via her husband’s memories, in The Constant Gardener to playing the love interest for Vince Vaughn in a cheesy Yuletide comedy about Santa’s misanthropic older brother. Weisz has demonstrated admirable range in her career, but a barely sketched brassy Chicago parking inspector was beyond her, while she and Vaughn shared a screen chemistry that verged on the facile. Luckily for Weisz, the focus on Vaughn and Paul Giamatti’s sibling Fred and Santa Claus hid her presence from the casual observer.
Louis Gossett Jr.
An Officer and a Gentleman > Jaws 3-D
Louis Gossett Jr. had spent 20 years wading through television guest roles, finally breaking into films and earning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his hard-nosed drill instructor who literally knocks Richard Gere’s callow recruit into shape in 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman. For the third Jaws film – directed by Joe Alves, the production designer from Steven Spielberg’s original classic – he played the ruthless manager of a Florida water park that somehow has a hungry six metre-long Great White shark lurking on the premises. Star Dennis Quaid probably still has nightmares about terrible movie, and it set Gossett on the long and uneventful B-movie path.